It is fascinating how two books can be about a similar topic – suicide, actually – and be so very different in tone and quality. This book, as compared with my last book (The Story of Ove), was quite the disappointment. While the last one told the story with such tenderness and subtlety, this one was was harsh and heartless. And even when the main character in the first was so gruff and quiet, he demonstrated such sweetness and caring for others that I felt I loved him nonetheless. On the other hand, because this main character, Esther, was so disconnected and mean to anyone around her, I felt as if I didn’t care at all what happened to her.
It may be that Esther’s experience of depression and suicidality was more realistic. She describes feeling as if caught in a “bell jar” and not able to interact with the world in a normal way. She does not seem to like anyone or really form any real bond with anyone. Her relationship with even her own mother is threadbare and superficial. She seems to feel no love.
Unfortunately, even if it is more realistic, it is not at all engaging for the reader. Perhaps if I’d learned why she felt no love for her mother, I might have felt sympathy toward her. Perhaps if there were some humor, some warmth, or some show of kindness in her at all, I might have liked her enough to care. But she keeps the reader at arm’s length and does not let you in at all – and so the story falls quite flat.
I am hoping her poetry was better than her prose…